Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
General Scheme of the Water Services Separation Bill 2021: Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage
I thank all the witnesses for the work they have done in moving forward with this legislation. I was a critic back in 2013 and we have moved on quite a bit. I suppose we hope this legislation will deliver on the commitment that has been in place since 2018 to set up Irish Water as an independent and publicly owned nationally regulated water service utility. I am clearly very supportive of that objective and I want to do all we can to try to progress this as expeditiously as possible.
I agree with Mr. Ó Coigligh's comments that there has been some progress in some deliverables. Irish Water was certainly robust in its defence of its delivery of those. We must also accept that although it connected approximately 33,000 new houses last year, we are coming out of a decade of undersupply of housing and we are in a massive housing crisis. We really need to see that Irish Water can ramp up speed, efficiency and capacity so it does not become another of many barriers to us tackling the housing crisis. I appreciate Irish Water is only one element but it is very important because it deals with wastewater and fresh water connections.
We all recognise that €4.5 billion in funding has been allocated. In separating Irish Water and setting it up as a single entity, we should consider the values the witnesses have spoken about, including the commitment that there would be a focus on the delivery of improved water infrastructure and quality. That is something that can only be measured over time and the accountability and scrutiny measures being proposed in the legislation will be very important to us into the future.
There were questions earlier in the session about costs and I know the witnesses have given a report indicating a €5 million cost. Have we also costed the implications of not doing this? What is it costing us in not having a separate entity right now? The public ownership of Irish Water is clearly very important and there is a commitment in that respect. There is also the question of a referendum. Is the potential cost of a referendum built into the €5 million or would that be dealt with completely separately?